Rushing To Beat Deadlines

Posted: April 16, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Morality, Police Harrassment, Politics, Stupidity

Late yesterday afternoon, as I passed one of the post office branches, I noticed a line of cars – all of which were waiting to turn in.

That seemed odd to me. I don’t recall ever having seen that many cars all trying to get into their parking lot all at once. Then it hit me. April 15th. Tax filing deadline. All of those folks had waited until the very last minute to mail their returns. Now they were scurrying to make sure that their returns were post-marked by midnight.

They weren’t the only ones scurrying about to meet a deadline.  

In Sacramento California, the local government also had a deadline: to make sure that residents of its now infamous tent city were off the property.

In some ways, it was a bittersweet irony. The government was exacting its pound of flesh from its citizens via taxation. And, at the same time, government was further displacing citizens who were already homeless.

The taxation I can somewhat understand. Taxes are necessary so that the government can spend our tax dollars on things which supposedly will make life better for all of us. However, the dismantling of the tent city without already having a real plan for those who were forced to move smacked of political hypocrisy.

Consider this –

According to a report by Sacramento’s Community Services Planning Council, in 2008 there had been an overall increase in homelessness of 9.2% from the 2007 count. The total number of homeless in Sacramento was given as 2,678, with 1,266 who were unsheltered.

I’m pretty certain that the majority of those 1200+ were not unsheltered by choice. Rather, it would be a safe bet that they were forced to sleep outside due to a lack of shelter beds.

Why have I drawn that conclusion?

Because the majority of cities seldom have enough shelter beds to accommodate their local homeless populations. Sacramento is no different. In fact, they don’t even have enough "extra" beds to shelter those who were evicted from the tent city.

An Associated Press article in the Washington Post, Homeless departing California tent city, stated in part,

"The camp about a mile northeast of the state Capitol has for years been home to about 150 homeless people…"

Further down the article it says,

"Mayoral spokesman Steve Maviglio said Wednesday there were at least 35 open beds at three city shelters, including one at the state fairgrounds. ‘We are not at capacity,’ he said.

Others, however, disputed whether the city had provided enough beds to accommodate the closing of the tent city."

I may not be a mathematical wizard, but I can pretty much figure out that if they have "… at least 35 open beds," that is still going to leave over 100 former tent city residents out in the cold.

I can understand Mayor Kevin Johnson – as well Sacramento’s city council – trying to "cover" their political butts. After all they were trying to curb further embarrassment for the city – and themselves. However, they seemed to have forgotten the adage about looking before leaping.

At the very least, if the city was adamant about dismantling that specific tent city, they should have provided an alternate location for those folks. Instead they will be treated like criminals and subject to being issued citations and having their possessions seized by local law enforcement because – as it turns out – Sacramento has an ordinance which prohibits "camping" within the city limits.

In my opinion, penalizing a person because they have no place to live is the pinnacle of absurdity. Furthermore, to criminalize the homeless for setting up "camps" when the city does not have sufficient beds to accommodate them is inhumane.

If there is anything criminal occurring in Sacramento, it is the way the city has failed to adequately address homelessness by not providing their homeless with the resources necessary to help them regain a foothold back into society.

  1. Josh Rigsby says:

    I concur. It is ridiculous to criminalize something if the city refuses to offer any alternatives. Similar situations happen on skid row here in LA. Police cars and bulldozers (!) come and periodically destroy the temporary homes of the homeless who are living in violation of city ordinances, but there are nowhere near enough shelters or beds available, even if all the people were willing to live inside. Frankly most of the SRO’s (Single Room Occupancy) housing that the city does allow in the area are so pitiful, it makes living on the street appear the much more humane option. Good work on raising awareness here.

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